COLOMBO: Seven international human rights organizations have urged the Sri Lankan government to end the arbitrary detention of Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) convenor Wasantha Mudalige, who was arrested five months ago.
The appeal was made by Amnesty International, Asian Forum for Human Rights & Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights Watch, International Working Group on Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.
In August 2022, Mudalige was detained on charges of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Mudalige was further remanded until January 31, after his bail application was taken up before Colombo Magistrate’s Court earlier today (Jan 17). Under the PTA, the court does not grant bail if the Attorney General’s Department opposes it.
In their statement, the international rights groups said the detention of Mudalige is part of the Sri Lanka government’s crackdown on activists since an economic crisis in 2022 sparked largely peaceful protests demanding governance reform and action against alleged official corruption.
They accused the government of responding by “giving sweeping powers to the police and military, which used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse demonstrations and arrest hundreds of people, including many students.”
The rights groups noted that although many of those detained have since been released on bail, the authorities have used extraordinary powers under the PTA to keep Mudalige in detention despite having produced no evidence of any involvement in ‘terrorism.’
“The Prevention of Terrorism Act allows for up to a year of detention without charge on the orders of the defense minister, who is currently President Wickremesinghe,” the statement pointed out, alleging that the law has been used particularly to target members of the Tamil and Muslim communities, and to stifle dissenting voices including journalists and human rights defenders, since it was introduced as a ‘temporary’ measure in 1979.
“The United Nations and human rights groups have repeatedly documented that the PTA has been used to enable prolonged arbitrary detention and torture or other ill-treatment.”
The rights groups also shed light on the repeated pledges made by successive Sri Lankan governments, including the present administration, to repeal the PTA and replace it with rights-respecting legislation – most recently to the European Union in October. “Yet the government continues to use the law to violate human rights, in breach of its own domestic and international commitments.”
They urged the Sri Lankan authorities to immediately impose a moratorium on the use of the PTA, and promptly repeal it. “The authorities should immediately review the detention of anyone held under the PTA, ensuring adequate access to fair bail hearings. They should also release all protesters facing charges that do not meet international standards.”
The statement also called on the Sri Lankan government to fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
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